Fraud and “computer misuse” offences increased by 28% during the last lockdown in England and Wales, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed.
The data shows that while other types of crime such as robbery fell between January and March 2021, fraudsters took advantage of increased internet use during lockdown to target victims online.
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At a glance: 5 key points
Between January and March 2021, 243,402 fraud and “computer misuse” offences were recorded in England and Wales, compared to 190,541 recorded during the same pre-pandemic period in 2020 - representing a rise of 28%.
This contrasts with a sharp fall in other types of crime such as robbery, theft and criminal damage and arson, which fell 40%, 34% and 19% respectively during the same period.
Several fraudsters took advantage of the pandemic to scam victims, sending texts and communications pretending to be from the NHS.
Charities have also warned that fraudsters have taken advantage of people’s financial vulnerability during the pandemic, with thousands of people losing money to scams.
Scams have become increasingly sophisticated, with perpetrators able to call or text from numbers which appear to be the same as those from official services like banks.
What’s been said
Conor McGinn MP, Labour’s Shadow Security Minister, said of the statistics: “Yet more rises in fraud under the Conservatives prove beyond doubt that they have lost control over this appalling crime.
“Fraud can be devastating for victims. It shatters personal finances, it damages our economy, and it’s a real and present threat.
“More Tory delay cannot be an option. We need a comprehensive, joined-up strategy across the Government to finally deal with this growing crime wave, as Labour has long called for.”
Rachel Almeida, Assistant Director at independent charity Victim Support, said: “Circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic has caused people to spend more time online. As a result, at Victim Support, we have seen a rise in the number of fraud victims accessing our services. Scammers used every opportunity to exploit victims using incredibly sophisticated tactics both over the phone and online.
“Victims of fraud not only have to cope with the financial loss of crime, but we’ve seen how it can have a significant impact on their mental health, relationships and quality of life.
“We also know that one of the most difficult aspects of this crime for people to deal with is that it is highly likely that the perpetrator will not be brought to justice because they are hiding behind an online alias or are based abroad. It is vital that victims do not blame themselves and that they know that help and support are available.”
The ONS regularly releases figures on crime in England and Wales based on the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and Home Office police recorded crime.
The latest figures suggest that lockdown caused a sharp fall in crimes usually perpetrated by strangers, such as robberies and assault in public.
Crimes that usually take place at home like domestic violence and fraud, however, rose during the same period.